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FAREWELL, SEYMOUR CASSEL

     

                             Seymour Cassel

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Longtime character actor Seymour Cassel passed away last week at the age of 84. I had the opportunity of speaking with him during the 1989 United States Film Festival in Park City (two years before it became the Sundance Film Festival) when Cassel hosted a 15-film salute to actor and independent-filmmaker John Cassavetes, who couldn’t attend due to illness (we didn’t know how ill Cassavetes was until he died the next month). So close friend and longtime collaborator Cassel filled in, leading to this interview, which was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 25, 1989, under the headline, ‘Festival focuses on John Cassavetes’ films.’

PARK CITY – John Cassavetes didn’t make it to the United States Film Festival due to an illness but 15 of his films — as actor and director — are playing throughout the week and a seminar was held Saturday to discuss his work.

One who did come to speak for Cassavetes was his longtime friend Seymour Cassel, a popular Hollywood character actor most recently seen as one of Richard Dreyfuss’ comrades in “Tin Men” and a doctor in Nicolas Roeg’s “Track 29,” Cassel also introduced and discussed some of Cassavetes’ films in individual screenings. (Right now he’s back in rehearsals with Warren Beatty, Madonna and George C. Scott for the movie version of “Dick Tracy,” which starts shooting Jan. 30; Cassel plays Tracy’s sidekick Sam Ketchum.)

Though he is most often cast in comic or heavy character roles by Hollywood producers, Cassel had lead roles in Cassavetes’ “Faces,” “Minnie and Moskowitz,” “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” and “Love Streams,” all showing at the festival.

The mutual admiration goes back 30 years.

     

Seymour Cassel receives direction from John Cassavetes on the set of ‘Minnie and Moskowitz’ (1971).

“I’d gone to New York to study acting with the American Theater Wing.” Cassel explained, “and John was the hot young actor at that time. He had done every ‘Playhouse 90,’ ‘Studio One’ and ‘Omnibus’ (dramatic TV anthology shows) available.

“He starred in the movie ‘Edge of the City’ with (Sidney) Poitier. And he had opened this workshop and gave out some scholarships to get it started. I went by and met him. He interviewed me for the workshop and said all the scholarships were gone. But he said I was welcome to study in an acting class if I was interested.

“Then he said he was going to work, that he was shooting a film. I asked if I could watch and we went into the next room and they were shooting ‘Shadows’ (Cassavetes’ first directing effort in 1958, an extremely low-budget independent experimental film).

“I stayed all night, helping move cameras around and just pitching in. I became associate producer — it just sort of evolved ± and had a small part in it. That’s where I learned the first things I knew about filmmaking. The actual shooting took 10 weeks but the post-production took about two years. And because it was an improvisational film we put it together and then had to shoot added scenes.”

Cassel says it was the improvisation in “Shadows” that prompts people to assume Cassavetes’ other films are also improvised. But he says most of them contained hard scripts that Cassavetes would alter if necessary as shooting progressed. “He’d just disappear into another room for an hour and then come back with a new scene.”

     

Seymour Cassel and Lynn Carlin in John Cassavetes' second filmmaking effort, ‘Faces’ (1968).

“ ‘Shadows’ was about 80 percent improvised,” Cassel explained, “but the rest of the films were all written, usually as plays. We would rehearse for two weeks before shooting, and two of the films — ‘Faces’ and ‘Love Streams’ — were shot in continuity (in the order scenes are shown in the film; most films are shot out of sequence). He’s the only one I’ve worked with that’s done that. It’s almost unheard of, but it helps build the character properly, like in the theater.”

Cassel has worked with many top directors, and easily ticks off some of his favorites: Elia Kazan, Sam Peckinpah, Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell. But, he says, Cassavetes is at the head of the list.

“Although I am prejudiced, of course, he’s the best. I think he’s the most insightful director on the American way of life, relationships people have with each other, whether in marriage or everyday life.”

Cassel said that though Cassavetes has been ill, he remains active. Last year Cassavetes directed a play in Los Angeles, and he’s always working on scripts. “He’s maintaining pretty good. He won’t act anymore, but I think he will be able to direct again. I think he can. But I don’t know which of the eight or 10 scripts he’s working he’ll want to do. This man is a workaholic and always has been.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

DON’T GO TO THE BEACH!

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 22, 2019

A highly anticipated horror film leads new movies this weekend, in a perhaps futile effort to stop the box-office steamroller that is “Captain Marvel.”

“Us” (R). Jordan Peele, writer-director of “Get Out,” has come up with another horror yarn, this one about a family vacationing in a beach house when their peaceful retreat is interrupted by a band of evil strangers — who look just like them! With Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss.

“Gloria Bell” (R). Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelió wrote and directed this remake of his 2013 film “Gloria,” set in 1970s California as a 50-something divorcee with grown children spends her evenings at the local disco, looking for love in all the wrong places. With John Turturro, Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Holland Taylor, Sean Astin, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Rita Wilson.

  

“The Wedding Guest” (R). Dev Patel is the mysterious title character, a British Muslim hired to stop an arranged marriage in Pakistan by kidnapping he bride.

“Woman at War” (R, in Icelandic with English subtitles). A choir conductor decides to disrupt the operations of a Rio Tinto aluminum plant in the Icelandic highlands, repeatedly damaging pylons and wires to cut the power supply. When her application to adopt a child gains traction, her activism becomes an impediment. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Wheely” (PG). This animated children’s film, which resembles Pixar’s “Cars,” follows the adventures of the titular underdog taxicab as he dreams of being a racecar and worships from afar a beautiful luxury town car, described as an, ahem, Italian model. (Exclusively at the AMC West Jordan Theaters.)


New DVDS/Blu-rays New DVDS/Blu-rays

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the better film noirs during that genre’s post-‘Body Heat’ revival in the 1980s, is this largely forgotten little gem, which was a box-office disappointment, despite largely favorable reviews. But now it’s been given new life by The Shout! Factory with a gorgeous Blu-ray upgrade, enhancing the gorgeous visuals by director Ridley Scott and cinematographer Steven Poster. My review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 11, 1987.

Director Ridley Scott, whose credits include the first “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and last year’s failed “Legend,” is a master of overkill. He’s so technically impressive in his very artistic work that he tends to let the look overwhelm character and story.

Certainly that applies to some degree to “Someone to Watch Over Me,” the latest in a recent spate of cop-thrillers to hit local theaters — especially when the organ music that accompanies a cop from Queen’s introduction to a fancy Manhattan apartment makes it sound like he’s entering the Sistine Chapel, or when smoky New York streets glisten and bright lights and colors flash.

But Scott has apparently learned a lesson along the way and his storytelling ability has improved remarkably. He manages to subdue those technical instincts throughout most of “Someone to Watch Over Me” so that his characters are in the forefront.

And the story here is certainly familiar, with overtones that bring to mind “Stakeout,” “The Big Easy” and even “Lethal Weapon.” But what Scott and his actors do with that story is rather special — most of the way.

Tom Berenger, recently nominated for an Oscar as the scarfaced sergeant in “Platoon,” plays a street cop recently promoted to detective. He’s a happily married family man whose wife (Lorraine Bracco) is a former cop, and she’s one tough cookie herself. (Their son suffers a bit from movie-child precociousness.)

One of Berenger’s first assignments is to protect a murder witness (Mimi Rogers), so the killer, a total psycho with mobster ties, won’t be able to prevent her from testifying.

     

Tom Berenger, left, Jerry Orbach, John Rubinstein, Mimi Rogers, 'Someone to Watch Over Me'

Berenger and a couple of other cops trade shifts as they watch her apartment — a very swanky place that begins to make Berenger feel as though he’s been living in a slum.

As you might suspect, Berenger and Rogers find themselves drawn to each other, though their class difference is distinct. And soon they are embroiled in an affair. Familiar, yes?

What gives “Someone” its edge, however, is that Berenger feels guilty — really guilty. And his wife, when she finds out, is not about to let any of that guilt let up.

One of the things that makes this movie most unusual is that Berenger’s wife, Bracco, is almost as prominent a force in the film as Rogers. And for my money, Bracco runs away with the film — a strident, tough-minded woman who isn’t about to compromise what she has or what she wants to accommodate her husband’s wandering eye.

But Berenger isn’t really the wandering type, and that’s what this movie’s really about. He is suffering during this affair, but at the same time he is drawn like a moth to a flame, no idle metaphor.

     

Lorraine Bracco, Tom Berenger, 'Someone to Watch Over Me'

In the end, as with many of these kinds of movies, “Someone to Watch Over Me” really goes haywire, requiring the psycho killer to lose all control and do really stupid things — almost as stupid as the cops who ultimately track him down. The film’s explosive climax is extremely ludicrous and almost ruins the movie.

This isn’t the first movie to come along this season that has plenty going for it and then tosses much of it away in the final scenes — and it’s difficult for a critic to write about those moments that require the harshest criticism without giving too much of the ending away.

So I will not do so, except to say that the finale here looks like another boardroom decision. Can’t you hear the studio executives saying, “OK, so you sympathize with the characters, but where’s the shootout?”

Most of the way, though, “Someone to Watch Over Me” is a much more satisfying exploration of adultery and the feelings of the people involved on all sides than “Fatal Attraction” — and though it will doubtless not have near the draw of that picture, one hopes it will find its audience.

As mentioned, Bracco, Berenger and Rogers are all fine, and there are several supporting players who also do quite well. And director Scott is to be congratulated for pulling those excellent performances from his cast. And for allowing the story to control most of the film.

“Someone to Watch Over Me” is rated R for violence, profanity and sex.


Welcome Welcome

Hi. I'm Chris Hicks.

But if you're looking for Chris Hicks the Australian rugby player or the American recording-industry executive or the Major League Baseball player or the author of "Think" or the singer-songwriter or the former basketball player, you're in the wrong place.

I'm Chris Hicks the movie guy from Salt Lake City. If that's who you're looking for, welcome to my website as I enter the 21st century … a little late (May 2013).

This site is all about movies, well mostly, and it's also about me, I guess, but I'll try to keep my ego in check.

My goal, my hope, is that you will be able to browse the pages here and be alerted to or reminded of some great movie you've never heard of or forgotten about. In other words, something that might enhance your movie-watching experience, whether it's by Alfred Hitchcock or Joss Whedon, or stars Audrey Hepburn or Jennifer Lawrence or someone you never heard of. And I've also tried to make it fun.

The bulk of stories and reviews here are gleaned (with permission) from my 40 years of writing about film for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City, with side trips here and there to other entertainment forms.

I'm no longer writing for the D-News so this is mostly archival stuff, primarily from the Deseret News but also from my 13 years with KSL Television and Radio, as well as other sundry freelance things I occasionaly come across in my deteriorating hard-copy files.

Hope you enjoy my little site. If you do, tell your friends. If you don't, just say you couldn't find it.

Cheers,
Chris H.

Shameless Hucksterism Shameless Hucksterism

 

Click here for Deseret News interview.

Click here for Deseret News review.

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Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen

THE SANDLOT

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: This locally-filmed family picture gained much of its enduring popularity after its theatrical release and remains a favorite in Utah — and a lot of other places. The SCERA Theater in Orem is showing the film as part of its ongoing Cinema Classics series and you can see it there on Tuesday, April 30, at 10 am. My review was published in the Deseret News on April 9, 1993.

The new kid in town is a dweeb when it comes to playing ball. But with the help of his reluctant, distracted stepfather and the local kids down at the sandlot where an eight-member team plays daily, he'll get the hang of it. He'll have to. They need a ninth player.

That's basically the overriding storyline in "The Sandlot," set in 1962 in an unnamed small American town. And the new kid, Scotty (Tom Guiry), even narrates the yarn, a la "The Wonder Years," albeit without the wit.

     

James Earl Jones confronts two of the kids playing ball in "The Sandlot."

This is an ensemble film, however, gradually building on a series of comic vignettes to the climactic confrontation between the boys and the monstrous junkyard dog that lives on the other side of the fence at the back of the sandlot.

Almost equal time is given several other team members as the group goes through various coming-of-age encounters — chewing tobacco and getting sick on a tilt-a-whirl ride (culminating, unfortunately, with graphic vomiting), stealing a kiss from the shapely teen lifeguard at the community pool, and using poor judgment when a new baseball is needed to continue a game.

Some elements work better than others. It's hard to believe, for example, that Scotty has never heard of Babe Ruth and the ending is just about as sappy as they come. Worse, co-writer/director David Mickey Evans (writer of "Radio Flyer") indulges his worst instincts, padding many scenes so that they seem to go on forever.

     

And it's too bad that a talented actress like Karen Allen is cast as Scotty's mother but is given nothing to do. (Better off is James Earl Jones, doing yet another of his patented end-of-the-movie cameos.)

But if you can accept "The Sandlot" on its own terms, as a sentimental, nostalgic look at growing up, through that overused metaphor, baseball, and take to the kids as updated, ragtag versions of the old "Our Gang" youngsters, you'll have fun. More important, young audiences will have fun.

"The Sandlot" is rated PG for profanity, vulgarity and some violence — all of it relatively tame.


Oldies New to DVD/Blu-ray Oldies New to DVD/Blu-ray

SHEENA

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: I was among the nearly unanimous critical community that found the deliberately campy ‘Sheena’ to be one of the worst films of 1984. Oddly, one of its defenders was the late Pauline Kael, the powerful movie critic for the New Yorker, who took it as a slapstick comedy. And the film does have a following, hence, the recent Blu-ray upgrade by Millcreek Entertainment. The most interesting aspect of this release is the design of the Blu-ray box, which is part of a series of less-than-stellar 1980s titles with a retro VHS look. My review below was originally published in the Deseret News on Aug. 24, 1984.

If you’ve been disappointed ever since Bo Derek’s “Tarzan, the Ape Man” that no other film has quite come up (or down) to its hilarious level of idiocy and incompetence, take heart: “Sheena” is in town.

No, not a concert film with Sheena Easton, “Sheena” is former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts, her hair bleached blond and her body barely clad — when it is clad at all — as she rides her zebra (actually a horse painted like a zebra) through the jungle. As the “queen of the jungle,” Roberts stares blankly into space, juts her chin out for dramatic effect and spouts some of the most ridiculous dialogue in any film since “The Conqueror.”

     

   "Sheena" (Tanya Roberts) with her jungle friends.

The film begins with Sheena’s biography, though hardly in a class with “Superman.” She is orphaned when her parents are buried in a cave-in, though neither she nor any of the tribe that takes her in seems to notice or care. She also inexplicably has the power to communicate with the jungle animals — a sort of distaff Tarzan by way of Dr. Dolittle. (Oddly enough, Roberts co-starred in “The Beastmaster” a few years ago, which had Marc Singer as a similar hybrid, if you substitute Conan the Barbarian for the Tarzan comparison.)

The story here has network-television newsman Ted Wass and his cameraman Donovan Scott doing a story on an African prince, who is also an American football star that has killed his brother to get his hands on some land for its titanium value. Wass meets up with Roberts, of course, and they fall in love … or something. Scott provides comedy relief — as if that was necessary.

“Sheena” is actually little more than a jiggle jungle movie with a supremely serious music score and reverential directorial treatment that only enhances the film’s inherent campiness. Roberts seems to be taking it all so seriously that one can only chuckle out loud at how ridiculous she seems.

     

But no one looks good here, even those who have proved themselves in other shows. Scott’s comedy is clumsy and ill-timed, the villains all look so constantly angry that you expect them to begin hitting each other, and Wass is forced to say things like “You make me want to cry,” as he stares at Roberts. She replies, “What for?” He says, “For everything.” And later he adds, “I love you so much it busts my heart.”

Rated PG for gory violence and an awful lot of nudity, “Sheena” is hardly appropriate for the young audience it seems aimed at, and would most certainly have carried a PG-13 had it been rated after July 1.

“Sheena” is one of the decade’s worst movies — but if you’re in the mood for some unintentionally hilarious jungle nonsense, this one fills the bill.